that must be a really fun place to work

I work as a nurse on a busy labor and delivery unit. Living in America, people at parties or someone you have just met will at some point without fail ask what you do for work. It’s a basic conversation starter. 

When I tell them where I work the response is always the same, “oh, that must be so fun”. 

And it usually is. 

TV gets a lot of the medical aspects surrounding birth wrong (you probably won’t precip, your baby won’t come out looking freshly bathed, you might tear and bleed a lot, your baby’s shoulders could get stuck, you could seize, babies die, you could die, there is a placenta to birth etc.) but the joy surrounding a new birth is pretty accurately portrayed. So I really don’t know how to respond to that comment. 

Yes, I love the work I do. Yes, we do have fun. But I don’t want to gloss over the darker aspects of the work. It’s not polite party conversation to tell the whole truth.

Most days I can’t talk to my family about my work. Not for fear of violating HIPAA but because they would never, could never understand. 

So I documented a day at work. It’s a dark day. That was not my intent, it was a random day, just further illustrating the unpredictable nature of birth. 

0330 I get up to go to the bathroom. When I get back to bed I cannot sleep at all. At 0545 when my alarm goes off I hit snooze. I know this move is amateur but it feels good nonetheless. At 0605 I get into the shower. I should leave at 0640. My husband brings me coffee while I’m in the shower and I eat greek yogurt with granola in the car. When I get to work I see that I’m assigned to work in triage today.  That’s good, it’s good to stay busy when you’re tired. The first few hours of work pass quickly, we admit a few people in labor, a few with ruptured membranes. I go upstairs to check the fetal heart tones for a patient hospitalized with the flu.

When I return to the unit I’m told the next patient we are expecting is coming in for decreased fetal movement. When she arrives she tells me she hasn’t felt the baby move since Friday. It’s Sunday. I bring her into a triage room and quickly start applying gel and monitors looking for a heartbeat. I hear nothing. I call for someone to bring the bedside ultrasound and I call the in-house OB to come right away.  More gel. More searching for the comfort of that whoosh whooshing sound.  The doctor has the baby pulled up clearly on the US screen as tells her what I already know, there is no cardiac activity, this baby will be born still. He gives her an awkward hug and leaves the room. Awkward because the patient is still flat on the triage cart with her gel-covered abdomen exposed, not because the hug is not heartfelt. She’s alone. I ask her if she wants water. I ask her if there is anyone I can call. She says no to both.

Shit. All I can think is shit. I leave the room as she begins to sob. I feel empty inside. Someone asks if I want to take my lunch break which I decline. I don’t want to eat. I want to cry.

These are the aspects of my job I can’t explain. I can’t explain to this mother that my work doesn’t stop even though her world just has. I can’t explain how even though I just met her she will leave a mark on my heart forever. I can’t explain to my son why I cuddle him so tightly even when he pushes me away. When my husband asks about my day at work I will always answer, good, bad, or okay. Today I will say work was okay.

I order a sandwich from Jimmy John’s when I get home at 330. I wonder if that’s a learned response to tragedy, cold cuts. Every funeral I’ve ever been to has served deli sandwiches.

I share my sandwich (beach club with extra cheese, hold the mayo, lettuce and cucumbers) and chips with E. I lay on the couch while my husband rubs my back. Eventually I fall asleep. When I wake up it’s dark outside. It’s winter in Minnesota so the color of the sky doesn’t actually tell you anything about the time of day but it’s late, I was asleep a long time. Supper has been eaten. My husband has given our son his bath and put him to bed. I have popcorn and a glass of wine with my husband before he goes to bed too.

I try to sleep but of course I cannot. I fidget a lot when my sleep is disrupted so I go back downstairs to let my husband be in peace. I’m completely unable to sleep so I decide I will just embrace it, this is when I’m starting my day. I turn on the coffee and eat a bowl of cheerios. I put on Frasier and decide I will do my exercises. I check on my son twice to give him secret kisses and rearrange his blankets., his room can get really cold this time of year.

Where do you work?

I’m a nurse at a hospital.

Oh, what department?

Labor and delivery.

That must be so fun!

Yeah, usually.


Christine Hicks